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New Zealand ... a brief introduction

New Zealand is an independent country in the South Pacific. It consists of two main islands, North Island, South Island and a variety of smaller islands. Around 1000 years ago New Zealand was visited by voyaging Polynesians who made their home here, the largest landmass colonized by them. The first people, called the Moriori, were ancestrally probably the same people as the Maori who arrived later. The newcomers made short work of the Moriori who lingered on in New Zealand’s easternmost island group, the Chatham Islands, until the twentieth century. Aotearoa, Land of the Long White Cloud, as it was known to the Maori presented a tough challenge. Favored food crops such as taro, kumara and yams did not grow well in the South Island so most major Moriori settlement was in the North.

New Zealand first came to European attention when Abel Tasman visited in 1642. It wasn’t a pleasant introduction. When he attempted to land several of his crew were killed and eaten. The next European contact was in 1769 when the redoubtable Captain Cook sailed around New Zealand on the first of his three voyages.

European settlement began in earnest in the 1830s and by 1840 the British perceived a need to annex the country. This culminated in the Treaty of Waitangi in which the
tangata whenua (literally the people of the land) agreed to cede their sovereignty to the Queen of England in exchange for a variety of safeguards and rights. As was often the case at the time, much of the treaty was not honored and today negotiations are still underway on a third “final” settlement.

Today New Zealand is the home for many Pacific Islanders. Indeed many island economies (Niue, the Cook Islands and Tonga) depend to a very large extent on money remitted by relatives working in New Zealand.

New Zealanders have a reputation of being sports mad. Currently New Zealand holds the America’s Cup yachting trophy and has a proud tradition in yachting. Its rugby team, once holders of the rugby world cup could only manage a mediocre fourth place in the 1999 competition. A black cloud descended over New Zealand when this occurred and took many weeks to lift!

Because of the rugged terrain and a long spectacular coastline New Zealand lends itself to an outdoors lifestyle and has become a hot destination for thrill seeking tourists.

Below. Maori exploring party. A re-enactment for the BBC


New Zealand is a parliamentary democracy with a one house system. As a member of the British Commonwealth Queen Elizabeth II, represented by a Governor General, is the titular head. In practice all decisions are made within the country, only an occasional appeal to the Privy Council (based in England and New Zealand’s highest court) is dealt with in Britain.

Until recently New Zealand had a “first-past-the-post” voting system in which the party which won the most seats became the government. This was patently unfair, because in several elections the opposition won more votes than the government. Dissatisfaction with this system led to a referendum on the subject. When it appeared that the much feared proportional representation system would be favored, big business cynically put big bucks into an advertising campaign to change people’s minds. The so-called “campaign for better government” disappeared without trace after Mixed Member Proportional Representation was voted in. The politicians of the day sabotaged it though. They had the numbers to manipulate the system in such ways that it was almost certain to lead to dissatisfaction amongst voters. There will be another referendum at the next election and MMP will probably go the way of all flesh … destroyed by the adolescent behavior of the politicians who didn’t have the intelligence or integrity to make it work. (You can check much of this out by going to the Politics section).

As an example of the sort of idiocy New Zealand politicians are prepared to contemplate, try this one: There is a proposal to stop all Government funded fisheries research and to stop Government policing of the Fisheries industry. Instead, Government proposes to allow the fishing industry to decide how much research is necessary and to fund it and carry it out themselves. The industry will then set fishing quotas and police it themselves. Does it sound a bit like putting a drunk in charge of a brewery?

In the 1980s a Labor Government dismantled much of the welfare system and became enamored with the free market. Much of what was owned by the people was hocked off at fire sale prices to political friends. This lead to widespread unemployment, the breakdown of much of New Zealand’s social structure, increasing gaps between rich and poor and, not surprisingly, a huge increase in crime.

New Zealand now has one of the freest economies in the world … and one of the sickest. (you can read about this in Only Their Purpose is Mad: The Money Men Take Over NZ by Bruce Jesson).

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Last modified on Thursday, July 10, 2003